FAQ

FAQ   (Frequently Asked Questions) from Grey Nomad 101 the Original

 

Q1: Why isn’t there a section on GPS navigation - surely this is an essential part of galavanting around the nation?

Q2: You got rid of your first van (the Windsor Rapid) pretty quickly, and went to a Kedron. Do you think the Windsor was a crap van, or what?

Q3: You don’t cover the basic stuff like how to reverse a van. Isn’t this essential to any kind of caravanning?

Q4: So what topics does the DVD actually cover?

Q5: Your comments in the 12V section of the DVD about electric brakes were rather interesting, but that bit about being able to lock up the caravan wheels doesn't sound right?

Q6: The section on ant invasion is scary. Is there any way to absolutely guarantee they can't get in?

Q7: What did you do about getting your mail sent to you around Australia?

Q8: You showed a through-wall fitting for external internet antenna in the DVD. How effective are these antennae, and what can you tell us about internet coverage in general for Grey Nomads?

Q9: That's a great segment on pests & bugs, but you didn't talk about sandflies/midges.

Q10: Where can I get one of those "noise blocker" devices?

 

General Questions

Q11: Solar panels - fixed versus portable - what's your preference?

Q12: What's with the coffee roasting?

Q13: How do you book into caravan parks, or do you need to book at all?

Q14: I've never reversed a van before - HELP!

Q15: I need more info about load distribution - how to fit those bars, how to measure ball weight, how to balance the rig, etc.

Q16: What's the best way to communicate with friends & family on the road? Mobile phonecalls are expensive.

Q17: I want satellite TV on the road. What can you tell us?

Q18: Have you tried the new LED lights in your van?

Q19: Satellite phone - can I get a government rebate?

Q20: Clearview Mirrors - you've had them a while now, what's the verdict?

Q21: Any tips on fixing leaky roofs?

Q1:

Why isn’t there a section on GPS navigation - surely this is an essential part of galavanting around the nation?

A1:

GPS in-car navigators are almost “standard” accessories these days, and I wanted to avoid giving too much DVD space to stuff you can find out anywhere.

However, Grey Nomad 102 has a brief look at them, including a couple of traps to watch out for.

 Back to Top

Q2:

You got rid of your first van (the Windsor Rapid) pretty quickly, and went to a Kedron. Do you think the Windsor was a crap van, or what?

A2:

Not at all - the Rapid was a beaut little van, and perfect for the right purpose. But in our opinion, it didn’t suit our purpose, which was to live in it full time for a year or more. So we needed something bigger. Windsor make bigger vans of course, and a lot cheaper than the Kedron we finished up with. But we went to the Kedron because we saw a few on the road, and heard many good things about them, including their obvious “built like a battleship” characteristics. And we certainly wanted to go into some very rough places. We took the Kedron to Kalumburu, off the Gibb River Road, and it doesn’t get much rougher than that - the van didn’t miss a beat. I’m not aware if Windsor make a van tough enough for those conditions. So, it’s horses for courses - if you’re planning to stick to the bitumen, there are some great vans, large and small, from the more commonly seen manufacturers like Windsor and Jayco.

 Back to Top

Q3:

You don’t cover the basic stuff like how to reverse a van. Isn’t this essential to any kind of caravanning?

A3:

Yes, it is. This is the kind of stuff we left out in the end due to lack of DVD space. It's covered comprehensively in Grey Nomad 102.

Back to Top

Q4: So what topics does the DVD actually cover?

A4:

There are two menu pages in Grey Nomad 101- one has a range of informative/instructional topics, while the other one has segments covering a handful of actual locations we visited in our travels (and even these segments contain various tips and tricks). Dozens of topics and tips, too many to go into here.

Back to Top

 

Q5: Your comments in the 12V section of the DVD about electric brakes were rather interesting, but that bit about being able to lock up the caravan wheels doesn't sound right?

A5:

OK, I'll explain it better. Any vehicle, whether it's towing or towed, should be able to stop itself properly using its own brakes. If a caravan can't decelerate as efficiently as the towing vehicle, then in an emergency stop it will push the towing vehicle forwards - a very nasty situation.

Maximum braking, or deceleration, occurs just before wheel lockup - any more pressure and you start to skid. So, if you are able to make the wheels skid, then back off the adjustment so they don't quite get to that point, then you know you're getting the maximum possible stopping power. If you can't make them skid even with maximum brake voltage applied to the caravan brakes, then you're probably not reaching the maximum deceleration point.

This latter situation can often occur with brake wiring that's too thin, bad plug connections, poor adjustment on the controller, etc.

BUT HERE'S THE KICKER: Many vans out there (and I reckon it's more than half of them) have properly designed brakes, yet are still not capable of stopping properly, even when all of the above is perfect. WHY? Because these vans are heavily overloaded! Van brakes are desiged to be able to stop the van up to it's maximum gross weight. But if you've got a few extra hundred kilos over the top, then you can't expect miracles. Each brake drum is only capable of applying so much friction before it melts!

Which leads to an interesting point when buying a van - Check out the brake design. Many dual axle vans have 10" drum on each wheel. Our Kedron has 12" drums all round, because it's a very solid van. If I was getting another van, I'd try and go for these large brake drums, even if they had to be retro-fitted. You can also get big disk brakes - see the "Off Road Van" segment in Grey Nomad 102.

Long answer to short question - I hope it helps.

Back to Top

Q6: The section on ant invasion is scary. Is there any way to absolutely guarantee they can't get in?

A6:

No! At least, not to my knowledge. If you're not setting up a full annex, it's a bit easier - spread some nasty stuff around any bits that touch the ground (stabilisers, awning ropes, etc) and you should be OK. It's much harder when you've got annex walls touching the ground all the way round. If it looks like ants are prevalent, then more nasty stuff helps. But I always try and not use it if I can help it - not good for the environent. Talc powder everywhere can be a big help - most ants don't like it much, and it's not so bad for nature. But some species just walk straight over it.

What do I mean by nasty stuff? Well, the usual ant powders and granules. I've recently started using barrier sprays a bit more, and they seem to work very well. I resisted it for a while because who knows what damage this stuff does to your awning walls, paintwork, etc. But having been invaded one too many times, I've decided to take my chances with damage to the van. And the spray stays on for ages.

Here's an important tip though - never park with tree branches touching any part of the van. Many trees look completely devoid of ant life in daylight, but swarm with them after dark (take a look with a torch, you'll be amazed). And you'd be amazed at how many of the little buggars can move in in just one night. But remember, if you do get caught with this one, don't just break the branch off - that's their escape route gone! Follow my suggestions in the DVD instead.

And finally, of course, the daily ant patrol is a must - walk right around the van and look for ant trails.

Back to Top

Q7: What did you do about getting your mail sent to you around Australia?

A7:

This is addressed in Grey Nomad 102. One option not covered there is:

Get friendly with your local newsagent-based postmaster - one where there are PO boxes you can hire. Hire one! Redirect your mail to it, or set it up as your permanent postal address. Arrange for him to periodically stick your accumulated mail in an express satchel and send it to wherever you are, based on a phonecall. Make it worth his while. Don't use this option if you have huge amounts of mail. We did this. It works.

Whatever method you use, have it forwarded to "Post Restante" at whatever post office you choose. Avoid GPOs - they can loose your mail (trust me, it's happened). Smaller POs are best, because the local operators have a good handle on what's come in recently, due to relatively low mail volumes. And if you purchase something (eg on-line) and are having it sent in such a way, allow plenty of time for it to arrive. We had real problems with companies not sending things straight away, and they hadn't arrived by the time we wanted to move on to the next place. Then you're into more Aussie Post redirections, and it can be a nightmare.

Back to Top

Q8: You showed a through-wall fitting for external internet antenna in the DVD. How effective are these antennae, and what can you tell us about internet coverage in general for Grey Nomads?

A8:

They are very effective. Go to a Telstra shop or one of the reseller shops and ask to see them. Make sure any connections are compatible with your modem (ie take the modem with you!) and get a kit for your mobile as well (see next para). Connector kits are available for most setups. The simple whip aerials come in various gains - ours is 9dB I think (the higher the better). Then mount it as high as you possibly can when you camp - we use an extendable painter's pole!

If you want the best coverage, don't muck around, just go with Telstra wireless broadband. It uses the same network as their Next-G mobile, and they have the best coverage, end of story. You'll be amazed at how often you get a signal from nearby base stations, even if you're a real "off-the-beaten-tracker" like us.

If you want a really high gain antenna, you can get a Yagi - you know, the multi-element thing that looks like a TV antenna. The only hassle with these is they are highly directional and you'd have to muck around aiming it, or more likely slowly rotating it until you got a result. Definitely more suitable for fixed installations rather than travelers.

Now, here's a trick very few people know about. To check if a new antenna setup is working, make sure you're in an area where coverage is available. Then hook it up to your mobile phone and dial *748#96, and be amazed! The RSSI figure on this first screen is what you are looking for. It tells you the signal strength from your antenna - the lower the figure, the better (ie -75 is better than -92), and you should see the variation by connecting and disconnecting your aerial (takes a minute or so to register each time).

Back to Top

Q9: That's a great segment on pests & bugs, but you didn't talk about sandflies/midges.

A9:

Yeah, that's right - I figured most people know how to use Aeroguard and mosquito nets! But here's a couple of tips for you:

1) The standard fly screen that you get on caravan windows and many tents and camper trailers won't stop midges/sandflies (let's not get into the old argument about what they're called, and just stick to midges!).You can get much finer mesh, around (0.5mm I think?) which will stop them, at the cost of reduced air flow. I made some replacement screens for our first (pop-top) van which we used when we headed north into midge territory. But last time I checked, I couldn't find ready made midge-proof screens for caravans (if anyone has found them, let me know!!) - it would be nice to have a couple of windows done with this mesh so at least you could get a bit of air flow. They come in through gaps in door catches, etc, too, so it's hard to stop them unless you completely close up, which is a pain in hot weather. At night, you can gets squillions of little flying critters pour in through every opening they can find, attracted by your lights - I don't think these are the biting kind of midge, but they make a mess due their large numbers. We do things like leaving just one light on over the sink, with that window firmly shut, so they all gather on the outside of that window, but can't get in - a sort of decoy tactic! Leaving a nice bright white decoy light on somewhere outside can also keep them more interested than your van.

2) The real problems with midges start when you head out into the mangroves to hunt those elusive barra, and the little sods just about eat you alive. So here's our trick:- We cover up as much as we can, against the sun as much as midges, then smear a nice thick layer of sun cream over the exposed bits. After an hour or two, the cream turns from white to black! They hit it, stick, and die there, but they can't get through it. But if we miss a bit of skin, they find it and bite it!

Back to Top

Q10: Where can I get one of those "noise blocker" devices?

A10:

We've had ours for many years, and we stumbled across it in Myers one day. It's a "Sharper Image Design Travel Soother". Google it and you can see the latest offerings, which seem to be rather expensive versions incorporating clock radio functionality. Or Google "ambient noise generator" to see other options - looks like you can pick up very simple devices for fifty or sixty bucks.

Back to Top

Q11: Solar panels - fixed versus portable - what's your preference?

A11:

Grey Nomad 102 looks at this question.

Back to Top

Q12: What's with the coffee roasting?

A12:

Ah yes, there's been a lot of interest in this one! One Saturday at the Perth 4WD Show, I was casually roasting coffee beans at our marquee. This is because we love good coffee, and absolutely detest instant coffee. In fact, we are coffee snobs. So, when we are living in a house, and therefore have the room, we roast our own beans and then grind them fresh and use our Italian espresso machine to prepare the best brew in the world.

Unfortunately there's not enough room in the caravan for our espresso machine, or even our grinder and roaster, so we settle for buying packs of pre-ground coffee and brewing it in a small plunger - not a bad compromise. But if you've got a pretty big rig with heaps of storage, you could go one step further and carry green beans, a roaster and a small coffee or spice grinder, and then still use a small plunger (unless you've got a 35 foot 5th wheeler, in which case you can fit the espresso machine as well).

Some facts about coffee:

Once it's ground, it's only good for an hour or so.

Roasted beans are only good for a week or so.

Green beans are good for several years.

You can roast coffee perfectly well in a popcorn machine (that's what I was using at the show - you just need a cut-down tin can stuffed in the top to stop the beans jumping out) - the beans pop or "crack" just like corn.

Enough already! Go to www.coffeesnobs.com.au for all the info you want, and more. (You'll be amazed - these guys are worse than wine buffs ..)

Back to Top

Q13: How do you book into caravan parks, or do you need to book at all?

A13:

Covered in Grey Nomad 102.

Back to Top

Q14: I've never reversed a van before - HELP!

A14:

Covered in Grey Nomad 102.

Back to Top

Q15: I need more info about load distribution - how to fit those bars, how to measure ball weight, how to balance the rig, etc.

A15:

Covered in Grey Nomad 102. And here's a little bit extra:

*Load distribution bars work by taking some of the vertical flexibility out of the coupling, which results in more weight being carried by the front wheels and less by the back. It's hard to visualise how this happens, but try this exercise:  Sit at a table and place your fingertips on the edge. Move your forearm up and down, leaving your wrist floppy. Hold your other hand underneath your wrist, and feel how the weight of your arm bounces on the hand underneath. Now do the same with your wrist stiff, and feel how there's less weight getting through to the underneath hand, while you can feel the extra load through your fingertips on the table. Pretty neat, eh? That's the best explanation of load bars that I've ever seen, and I done it me-self :) Oh, one more thing - weight is redistributed from your rear axle in both directions - the greater portion transfers to the front axle, but some of it goes back to the van wheels. Not too many people realise that.

*Measuring weights. The best way is on a weigh bridge. Go to a public one and pay. Or go to a traffic authority one and it might be free, but watch out - if you're over weight they might book you too! We went to the one in Alice run by the traffic cops. They were kind enough to point out that it was only manned in business hours, but it worked 24/7, with the readout visible through the window!!! Record these weights while hitched up: (1) whole rig (2) car only (3) Car front axle only (4) van only. Then unhitched: (5) whole car (6) car rear axle only.  You now have enough data to calculate anything you need. eg (2) - (5) is the ball weight, and (1) - (5) is van weight. Of course you could measure these directly with a bit more hitching and unhitching . . .  Once you know the exact weight on each axle (and therefore each wheel) you can use the tire manufacturer's pressure chart to work out tyre pressures very accurately. Most tire places can give you these charts, or Google it.

Measuring ball weight the sneaky way: This really works well, and is accurate enough for all practical purposes. Use a strong lever (like a fence post) on a sturdy fulcrum (like a small log). Put one end under the van hitch (not when it's hitched up - duh!) and stand on the other end. Adjust the position of the fulcrum (not while you're standing on it - duh!!) until your weight can just lift the draw bar off its stand. Then use the ratio of the distances applied to your weight to get the ball weight. You also need to factor in the weight of the lever, if it's substantial. If you're no good with the maths of levers, don't try this method!

Crikey, I do ramble on don't I . . .

Back to Top

Q16: What's the best way to communicate with friends & family on the road? Mobile phonecalls are expensive.

A16:

If you're camped near other people in mobile coverage areas, then every evening from 5pm onwards you'll hear lots of people shouting into their mobiles (I think they shout because they think it might make it go further . . .). These are the people who have mobile plans with a "free hour" - they can call anywhere in Australia for nothing during the particular hour they have nominated with their carrier. This is definitely the way to go!

Or, if you've got wireless broadband (and you've gotta have it, right?) then Skype will get you calls that cost very little or nothing. Go to www.skype.com and all will be revealed.

And of course, with wireless broadband you can do other things like email broadcasts to a set list of friends, telling them all the latest in a very impersonal way. Or run a blog site that your friends can log onto whenever they want to check up on you. (I was doing this - after any major updates to the site, I'd send a brief email to everyone inviting them to check out the blog). And I hate to say that Facebook looks like taking over the world for this sort of thing - it has the advantage of allowing generic postings that all can see, combined with individual communication when required.

Back to Top

Q17: I want satellite TV on the road. What can you tell us?

A17:

Covered in Grey Nomad 102. And it's changing as we speak, with the "old" system being replaced by VAST (Viewer Access Sat TV). It works in the same way, but gets you more channels. They have recently brought out 12V versions, so make sure you watch out for that when purchasing a new system.

Back to Top

Q18: Have you tried the new LED lights in your van?

A18:

Just getting into that now. I bought a LED module at a recent caravan show. It's a small, flat panel of LEDs that's meant to be stuck inside the casing of a fluoro light to replace the fluoro tube. It simply wasn't bright enough, so I've bought a second one to go with it - haven't installed it yet! But the thing I really want to evaluate is whether it attracts less bugs than conventional lights. LEDs are supposed to have very little UV light (and it's the UV that the bugs go for), so if it works, then it'll be worth its weight in gold. We get really tired of those tiny little creepy-crawlies that get in through the flyscreens and gather around our lights. Stay tuned for our results . . .

I've also just bought a "Korr Camp Light Kit". It consists of several strips of bright LEDs, along with all kinds of connectors and mounting arrangements. They are brilliant bright, and great outdoors. I'm also going to try a strip mounted over the sink instead of the long fluoro that's there now - should be great for Sandie washing the dishes . . . It wasn't cheap, but I think it's well worth the money.

Back to Top

Q19: Satellite phone - can I get a government rebate?

A19: Only if you are out of normal coverage areas for enough days each year. I use an AST satellite phone, and they have a fact sheet about rebate eligibility. If you're in the market for a Sat phone, allow several weeks - don't expect to buy one the day before you hit the road. You need to use a properly "authorised" dealer, and they'll submit the paperwork once you've chosen your phone. When the approval comes back (about 3 weeks), only then do you actually go and pick up the phone. They're getting very cheap these days - under $1000 - but per minute call rates will still cost you.  STOP PRESS: The rebate scheme officially ends at the end of June 2013, but until they decide what to do, they are extending it month by month. Google it yourself to make sure you get the latest info before you do anything (in case my answer here is out of date!)

Back to Top

Q20: Clearview Mirrors - what's your verdict?

A20: I've had them on for a couple of years now, and recently gave them a real hammering on the Outback Way. They have been really fabulous, even all those corrugations didn't cause any problems. Here's a tip if you're getting some - if you're worried about reflections of the sun getting in your eyes, you can get them in matt black (like mine) instead of chrome. Many people still go for the chrome because they certainly look great.

Q21: Any tips on leaky roofs?

A21: Our van recently started showing water coming inside high up, from the roof somewhere. But finding the leaks proved rather difficult. Apparently all that silicone sealant goes hard after a few years, no matter how expensive your van is, and water starts getting past it. I tried stripping it all off and re-doing it myself, but it was a messy business, and still didn't do the trick. So we found a company (Caravan & RV Repairs Australia) that applies a flexible coating to the entire roof (a bit like what they do to house roofs) and got them to do the van. So far so good, and they give a 10 year warranty with it. Not all that cheap, but I don't skimp on things like this, even though we have aluminium frame. I think if I ever got a wood frame van again, I'd get this treatment done up front - a couple of caravan repairers have told me that rotting wooden frames are one of their main sources of income! STOP PRESS: After some really horrible weather, none of the leaks have reappeared, so it's thumbs up to this treatment.